Tens of thousands of Pakistanis marched in the streets of Lahore on July 25 to protest against prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s acceptance of a US-imposed settlement to the confrontation with India in occupied Kashmir which amounted to a humiliating withdrawal by Pakistan.
The turn out at the rally, called by the Jama’at-i Islami (JI), was disappointing; organizers had hoped for over one million people . Nonetheless, it reflected a deep public anger and bitterness at their government’s abject performance. Turn-out was probably also affected by the JI’s own poor standing in the country. The JI, which has no seats in the country’s parliament as it boycotted the polls in 1997, has long castigated the government for its failure to support the Kashmiri mujahideen more closely, and welcomed the Kargil operations when they were launched.
Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the Amir of the JI, addressed the rally, accusing the government of corruption, being anti-Islamic. In a mock ‘charge sheet’ presented at the rally, the JI said that “it is imperative for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, and for the safety and solidarity of the country, that Nawaz Sharif should be removed from the office of prime minister.”
Qazi Hussain Ahmad also accused the government of sabotaging the rally in order to keep the numbers down, by pressurising bus companies not to carry protestors to Lahore.
Qazi Ahmad also addressed the issue of Usama bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan and persistent rumours that the Pakistani government was helping the US authorities to keep track of him and possibly to act against him in the future. The arrival of three American warships in Pakistani territorial waters in mid-July was seen as a sign that action was imminent.
Mushahid Hussain, the information minister, has led the government’s counter-attack against his critics. As the rally was in progress, he told the press that the Washington Agreement was a triumph for Pakistan as president Clinton had agreed to take a personal interest in resolving the Kashmir issue, and had succeeded in internationalising the issue.
“The environment has now changed,”, he said. “The pressure is on India and we have to pursue that pressure through all available channels, particularly diplomacy.”
This version of events has been wholly rejected by most observers.
The rally was partly organized by some Kashmiri activists. But others have been as scathing of the JI as they have of the government, accusing them of trying to use the Kashmir issue to mobilize popular support rather than having any real commitment to change in the occupied region. Many Kashmiris have been disappointed but not surprised by the Pakistan government’s withdrawal, saying that its vulnerability to US pressure was well-known, and that Pakistan intelligence was long-regarded as an unreliable friend and ally.
Muslimedia: August 1-15, 1999